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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Once upon a time, a “facebook” was an actual book that published photos of incoming university students. (That’s where the name for the social-media behemoth that is Facebook came from.) While cleaning out my childhood home, as they’ve been doing, my parents found this Columbia University facebook from 1987.


Behold! A book.

I had this because I worked on Columbia’s new-student orientation that year. I was on a committee focused on transfer students, having been a transfer myself in 1986. (As I’ve mentioned, I spent my freshman year at Northwestern University.) The book included the photos of all the orientation volunteers. Here I am!


The higher the hair, the closer to God.

I’m quite sure those are the same silver hoop earrings I’m wearing in the third photo in this post. I had them till recently and then foolishly got rid of them, not realizing that they were such a favorite back in the day — I keep finding more and more photos where I was wearing them. I also gave away a pair of my old ’80s rhinestone earrings this year. I need to stop doing these things! It hurts my hoarder heart later on.

When I flipped through the book to see if everyone else’s hair was as ’80s-riffic as mine (pretty much), one new student’s photo was head and shoulders above the rest.


Guess who the chic, androgynous student was? None other than Cecilia Dean, who went on to become a co-founder of the fashion and art magazine Visionaire. For the facebook, she identified her favorite movie as Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva, a suitably fashionable and artistic choice.

The 1987 facebook also had this photo.


That banner was presumably photographed in April 1985, when students protesting the South African apartheid system blockaded a campus building while calling on Columbia to sell all stocks and bonds in U.S. companies that did business in South Africa. According to the New York Times, when the university’s board of trustees voted in favor of divestment in October of that year, Columbia became the first Ivy League school to commit to that move. The divestment was supposed to be completed by 1987, but when the deadline came, the Columbia Spectator quoted ’85 blockaders as saying that the university still had investments in major brands — including Coca-Cola and General Motors — that continued doing business in South Africa. A Columbia Wiki claims that full divestment wasn’t achieved until 1991, by which time Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and apartheid was finally on its way out. This year, after I visited South Africa, I’ve twice mentioned how big an impression the anti-apartheid campus protests of the ’80s made upon me. I guess it made a big impression on the facebook editors too. Even though there are captions on photos of students lounging on the lawn, the marching band and a view of the World Trade Center, the banner photo is one of several pictures without captions, as if it were unimaginable that anyone would NOT KNOW what this was about, even two years after the protests. Interesting.

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8 Responses to “Throwback Thursday: Facebook Before Zuckerberg”

  1. I LOVE this post!! How lucky are to still look the same 20+ years later! Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. Marguerite says:

    Cornell’s was called the Pig Book (unofficially, of course). I was a few years ahead of you (class of 86 but got out a semester early), but we certainly had all the sit ins and protests with the South African divestment movement. Spent a semester on the school paper until they decided to immortalize Brezhnev at his death for his “bushy eyebrows. They were something else.” Ah, college.

    • WendyB says:

      Oh, yeah, we had “pig book” too — so “hilarious”!

    • Louise says:

      Marguerite, we were at Cornell at the same time! I had a friend who sang in one of the a capella groups, and I remember a song called “Facetime,” extolling the pleasures of being seen with your friends.

      Some of the lyrics were

      Facetime at Cornell
      Hanging out, acting cool
      It’s a wonder that we’re still in school…

      The first time I heard the term Facebook, I thought it should have been Facetime. Do you remember that song, or did I just dream it all? 🙂

  3. Suzanne says:

    I had no idea that is where the name Facebook came from.

    It must have been an interesting time to be at that university.